During President Xi Jinping’s visit People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encroached across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. The Chinese President underplayed the incident. Later he ordered the troops to withdraw which they did. After his departure the troops returned across the LAC. In Beijing Mr. Xi made a public statement seeking discipline by his army and obedience to his government. The fiction that the PLA acts on its own is foisted on security analysts. It is hogwash.
President Xi is a Princeling hailing from the elitist of elite Han families, the son of a Chinese general who participated in the Long March, and the most powerful Chinese President since Deng Xiaoping. In Beijing, while PLA soldiers camped across the LAC, Mr. Xi advised his army to be prepared to “win a regional war”. This was a scarcely veiled warning to India. At the same time Mr. Xi affirms that there will be peace on the border which can be settled amicably.
What does China want?
China wants a quick border settlement before multiplying its economic ties. It is virtually compelling India to make quick settlement. That can happen if India gets what it needs. During his visit President Xi had a one-to-one ninety minute meeting with Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. It is not known what the two discussed. In a public function attended by the PM the Gujarat government released on behalf of its Chinese hosts a map showing Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir as disputed territories while Aksai Chin was shown as part of China. Was this a dangerous gaffe or a reflection of the private parleys?
This writer conjectures that President Xi did discuss a border settlement. The wrong map indicates possibility of Aksai Chin being ceded to China. In a stage managed drama after fierce insistence Arunachal could be wrested by India. That would make Mr. Modi a hero. If this surmise is correct it is a dangerous game. Things can slip out of control. Drama related to the LAC is superfluous. The border dispute can be settled without histrionics. The problem is that India does not know what it wants. What should India want?
Realistically India should be prepared to swap Aksai Chin for Arunachal with the proviso that no settled population on either side is disturbed. Zhou Enlai sought the swap in 1960. China is committed in writing to not disturbing settled populations for resolving border disputes. Next India should demand an end to Chinese meddling in SAARC nations with arms aid and allow a South Asian Union to emerge. China could benefit from enhanced trade with the whole Union as one unit. Finally, China must exert pressure on Pakistan to eliminate terrorism. All these steps will be hugely beneficial to both nations. Drama on the LAC and playing games with maps should end. A transparent policy for peace should commence. If Beijing does not fully accept every Indian precondition, settlement efforts should be abandoned. India has other options.